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I came up with a name for a species in my fantasy world, and looked it up to see if it had been used already. Turns out it's the name of a species in WoW. They are both big cats. Am I infringing on rights by using the same name (Dawnstalker)?

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  • What is the name?
    – user54131
    Jun 24, 2022 at 20:30
  • It's Dawnstalker
    – amd
    Jun 24, 2022 at 20:33

3 Answers 3

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Names can't be copyrighted. But, they can be trademarked.

You could run into copyright problems if your species is so similar to the World of Warcraft species that a court found it reasonable that you'd used the World of Warcraft world elements without the copyright holder's approval. So, it gets complicated. They have to care, they have to file suit and claim infringement, etc.

But, trademark infringement is a much lower bar in the US and EU and Australia and etc. Did they trademark the name? If yes? Then you infringed on their trademark. And, they can claim damages for damage to their brand or lost $$$$ because of unlicensed use. It's why you don't see stories about Superman or Batman, even with very different artwork or characters.

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  • Thanks! This is very helpful. I looked it up in the trademark database and it didn't come up as trademarked. I think my species is different enough. The Dawnstalkers in World of Warcraft are just tigers from a particular region, and in my story, they are more like reptilian lions.
    – amd
    Jun 24, 2022 at 21:25
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    "Authors have to take action to defend their copyrights or they can risk the work falling into the public domain." - this is the case for trademarks, but not for copyright. It is very well possible to enforce copyright selectively. But with trademarks it's different. The main reason why trademarks exist is to prevent misleading consumers. When you allow too many people to infringe on your trademark, then further infringers have a legal argument that your term became so widely used that it is no longer associated with you specifically, so it no longer misleads consumers that you are involved.
    – Philipp
    Jun 28, 2022 at 7:58
  • "They have to care, they have to file suit and claim infringement" No they don't, and some authors choose not to. That is a business and PR decision. But a copyright owner may sue if there is a plausible case for infringement, as may a trademark owner. I am about to write an answer with soem additional details. Jun 29, 2022 at 18:19
  • @DavidSiegel, you are misreading my statement. 'They have to' doesn't mean they are compelled to do something, but means nothing happens unless someone cares, and files suit and etc
    – EDL
    Jun 29, 2022 at 20:00
  • @EDL In that case you are quite correct, and I am sorry for misreading you. It is a very common misunderstanding that a copyright is "enforce it or lose it". Jun 29, 2022 at 21:25
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It is true, as the answer by EDL says, that "Names can't be copyrighted. But, they can be trademarked."

Legally, a trademark is only protected against uses "in trade" or "in commerce". That means when a mark is used to identify a product (or service, from here on "product" will imply both) ore to advertise a product. That includes any case where a mark is used in such a way as to imply that a product is approved, endorsed, or sponsored by the owner of the mark, when it is not. But a mark can be used to refer to teh product it is affiliated with, that is called nominative use, and it is not infringement. Using a name, even a tradfemarked name, within the body of a work is a *literary reference or allusion, and that is not infringement

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You have an answer about whether it's legally ok, but you should also consider other reasons you may not want to use the name.

Specifically, because WoW has a large amount of people who are familiar with it, you're probably going to put a bad taste in the mouths of your readers, or at least an association that you don't want.

Even if you know that your dawnstalkers are totally different from the WoW dawnstalkers, readers tend to be kind of harsh on things like that. Especially with very specific-sounding names used by popular media. (something generic with ancient roots in mythology, such as elves or dragons, that's a different story)

I would find a new name.

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